It’s not every day a chance like this comes along to admire the exquisite details of the world’s smallest mouse species Mus minutoides. Here he is sitting in a corner, (WordPress Photo Challenge) though not eating Christmas pie.
There is a story attached to this scene: a family of Cape pygmy mice have taken up residence in my neighbour’s kitchen and to outwit the little beauties, the man of the house came up with an ingenuous design for a trap. This is no ordinary mouse trap, it’s a deluxe model, the spacious 5***** Hilton of mouse traps. If you’d like to read about the delightful battle of wills between man and mouse here is the link to “Our Urban Wild” blog post. The catering service is excellent too – seeds, grated cheese and a miniature water bowl are provided. My task is to release the captured creatures to a carefully chosen location. Where we hope they continue to multiply. With a gestation period of just 20 days and the young weaned and independent at 4 weeks the population growth can be robust.
Further reading extract from Wikipedia –
“Grey to brick-red overall, it is pale on the underside and has small but prominent triangular ears. Adults are between 30 and 80 mm (1.2 and 3.1 in) long, with a 20 to 40 mm (0.79 to 1.57 in) tail, and weigh from 3 to 12 g (0.11 to 0.42 oz).
African pygmy mice reach breeding age at about 6 to 8 weeks. Pregnancy lasts for around 20 days and the litter of about 3 young is born blind and hairless. Their eyes open after 2 weeks, and weaning is complete after 4 weeks. The lifespan is about 2 years, although individual specimens have been reported to live over 4 years in captivity.
The African pygmy mouse has a number of unique traits. It stacks pebbles in front of its burrow. Overnight the pebbles gather dew and in the morning the pygmy mouse drinks the dew on the pebbles. After that it retires back to its den. Its method of sex determination has also been found to differ from most mammals in that rearrangements of the X chromosome have led to many XY individuals actually being female.”
The craggy landscape beckons and the late afternoon light casts a spell. Hiking along a ridge line above the coast from Olifantsbos (Cape of Good Hope Reserve) shadows and shapes merge – figures appear. Buck species like the shy Grey Rhebok keep a distance and then meld with the scenery. Red Hartebeest scamper behind boulders. Eland, the largest of the antelope species, show their majestic form. As they pass in front of the ochre coloured sandstone they blend with the rocks, and with a shift in imagination – like slipping through a portal to travel through time and space, a different realm appears. There was a time when animals were people and the San Bushmen captured scenes depicted in their rock art when Hare, Mantis and Eland had different stories to tell.
Table Mountain Sandstone
Sandstone boulders catch the late afternoon sun
Eland rock art
San rock art _ Cedarberg
It’s calmer on the False Bay side when the nor’westerly Atlantic swells push onto the coast; though the wave height may not be as high as along the western edge of the Cape Peninsula there is still power in the break. We watch with great anxiety for the otters and penguins as they exit the surging waters. Fortunately the Boulders’ penguin colony is sited in a sheltered sandy cove, with a defence of boulders breaking up the force of the water. Still these sturdy little creatures risk being tumbled in the surf. Once on land they head for shelter from the strong winds. Interesting to see the Cape cormorants happily hunkered down amongst the penguins. (Note the little penguin with the missing foot.)
Close by the Cape clawless otters (Aonyx capensis) maintain secret holts on land where they can hole up out of the rough seas. We’ve been fortunate to observe a pair which have returned to the area near our garden since the vegetation has regenerated after the devastating fires. Unlike the penguins’ sandy beach landing, the otters negotiate a rocky shore and often suffer from injuries. Pyjama shark is the catch of the day. If you’d like to read more details about the otters Wilf Nussey’s enthralling stories are here.
The welcome rain continues to bring relief to the parched veld and urban gardens. Within days new shoots are greening up and animals appear to be coping, if not revelling in the fresh rainwater. Though we have a long way to go before the strict water restrictions can be eased.
Interesting to note the animals’ fur ‘fluffled up’ to create thermoregulation which helps to insulate and retain body heat.
One tends to think of porcupine roaming in the wild but they are quite common here in the neighbourhood, though they not always welcome. For the keen gardener who prizes the display of flowering bulbs they can become pests. Being herbivores they are partial to a diet of juicy geophytes and digging up corms / bulbs is a nightly escapade.